Panel explores the question: Are journalists ‘enemies of the people’?

Are journalists “enemies of the people,” as President Trump has claimed, or “friends of democracy,” as members of the media contend?

That was the subject of spirited discussion and occasional debate during a forum sponsored by the Press Club of Long Island at Newsday’s auditorium in Melville on Sept. 13, the night of the state primaries.

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Photo by Scott Brinton/PCLI

More than 30 journalists and journalism students attended. Carl Corry and Keith Herbert, both Press Club board members, organized the event, which was live-streamed on social media.

The four panelists included:

  • Moderator: Dan Janison, Newsday politics columnist
  • Pat Biancaniello, editor of Smithtown Matters
  • Chris Hahn, FOX News Network contributor and former Nassau County chief deputy county executive
  • Gary Lewi, former press secretary to U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato and former Town of Hempstead communications director.

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Photo by Scott Brinton/PCLI
Panelists included, from left, Chris Hahn, Gary Lewi, Pat Biancaniello and Dan Janison.

Of course, journalists are friends of democracy, the panel concluded. The speakers noted, however, that journalists, generally speaking, do little to defend their profession from attacks. Many believe their work should speak for itself, so they needn’t speak out and up. That causes an information vacuum in which elected leaders such as Trump and others can ridicule the media unchecked.

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Photo by Scott Brinton/PCLI
Newsday business reporter James Madore was in the audience. 

In the past, elected leaders criticized the media, yes, but within the bounds of civil discourse. In recent years, however, Trump has ratcheted up the rhetoric, attacking journalists in previously unheard-of ways, excoriating and mocking them on social media and during his political rallies.

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Photo by Scott Brinton/PCLI
Several journalism students were in the audience as well. 

Some in the audience said they worried about the adversarial nature of the rhetoric, saying they believed it has caused new physical dangers to journalists, particularly high-profile broadcast journalists whom Trump calls out by name. Others disagreed, though, saying that journalists have long faced dangers. The current climate will pass as the Trump presidency fades from memory in the future.

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Photo by Scott Brinton/PCLI
The Press Club live-streamed the event via social media. 

In the end, what’s a journalist to do? Remain professional by reporting honestly and objectively — and always seeking the Truth, panelists agreed. The public is smart enough to see through the divisive bluster.

The event was inspired by an incident in June in which Biancaniello was thrown out of a political rally organized by U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican from Suffolk County, at which Sean Spicer, Trump’s former press secretary, was a speaker. Also expelled from the rally was David Ambro, editor of the Smithtown News.

The Press Club maintains that it was wrong of Zeldin’s camp to remove these credentialed journalists without cause. The incident is part of a larger pattern, we believe, of abuse of the media. In a statement to the Press Club, Zeldin apologized to Biancaniello and Ambro. Biancaniello said at the forum, however, that Zeldin had not reached out to her personally, and at this point, she is not seeking an apology from him.

The Press Club invited Zeldin to speak at the event. Neither he nor a representative was available.

 

 

 

 

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